LTE or WiMAX: Why not both?

Determining which telecom technology should become the 4G standard has been a lively debate among techies. That may be moot now. There's a new chip that supports both.

The story starts with Beceem Communications, a well-known manufacturer of semiconductors. Not quite an Intel, but a force to be reckoned with when it comes to 4G. Their Web site mentions:

"Beceem was founded in October, 2003, as a fabless semiconductor company specializing in the emerging 4G-WiMAX marketplace. We offer baseband & RF chips as well as complete hardware & software solutions."

That's certainly true, considering Beceem was selected by Clearwire to provide chipsets for their mobile WiMAX devices. Needless to say, that's a lot of chips.

Some history

There are two divergent ideologies vying to be the next cellular standard, -- the technology allowing cell phones to communicate and exchange data. WiMAX is one. Albeit the new kid on the block, it has significant traction. Sprint is the major proponent for WiMAX and betting the house on it.

LTE is the other standard. It's more in line with existing telecom technology and why providers like AT&T and Verizon are in favor of it. I personally feel that LTE will dominate, simply because most telecom service providers are behind it.


Now let's get back to Beceem. This year's Mobile World Congress was held in Barcelona, Spain and that's where Beceem introduced the BCS500. The BCS500 is a chipset that integrates LTE and WiMAX technology into one device.

Once that sunk in, I realized the significance. It completely redefines what is possible. In their news release, Beceem's Vice President of Marketing Lars Johnsson mentions:

"Our BCS500 will end the 4G debate by connecting to any 4G LTE or WiMAX network with seamless roaming, and switching between TDD and FDD configuration as needed, freeing operators from concerns how best to utilize their available spectrum assets."

Here are a few of the more prominent features built into the BCS500:

  • The chip supports the 16e and 16m revisions of the IEEE 802.16 standard.
  • BCS500 also supports the 3GPP-LTE standard, Release 8.
  • It is the only device chip to support UE Class 4 capabilities.

The killer feature is how the BCS500 can enable real-time band/channel reconfiguration by using what Beceem calls "multi-mode autosense". That means the 4G device can automatically detect available LTE and WiMAX networks and switch seamlessly between them.

The Beceem announcement quotes Caroline Gabriel, Research Director for Rethink Research Associates:

"This advancement of Beceem's 4G chipset dramatically helps the entire ecosystem by adding flexibility to network planning, equipment deployment and utilization, device manufacturing, and much more. The BCS500 chip solution will be an industry ‘game changer' in terms of the interoperability that it enables."

Future plans

It was also announced at the Mobile World Congress that Beceem and Motorola are collaborating to pair the BCS500 with Motorola's WiMAX 4G network. Bruce Brda, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Networks Motorola explains:

"The know-how gained during the development and deployment of our leading 4G WiMAX solution has contributed to our work with Beceem to offer this advanced chipset solution. We look forward to the opportunities provided by this capability to address market demand."

It's my understanding that Beceem and Motorola will start testing devices later this year, with plans to mass produce equipment in early 2011.

Final thoughts

Imagine the telecom service provider's relief. They have more latitude as to which technology to choose, LTE or WiMAX, without having to worry if they made the wrong decision, ala Betamax versus VHS. Providers may now be willing to ramp up their deployment plans. This is good news for us consumers, since both LTE and WiMAX address the bandwidth problems we are encountering. BCS500 does appear to be a game changer.